By STEVEN NALLEY
Lee Peeples had 20 seconds to fix a mistake that wasn’t even his own.
On the first day of Basic Combat Training with the Army National Guard, Peeples, a 2011 graduate from Starkville High School, found himself placed in the wrong platoon.
“They had all my stuff dumped on the ground,” Peeples said. “(When) you get off the bus, all your drill sergeants are there, yelling at you, (and) you have to dump out all your gear (and) clothes, and they check for contraband. They gave me 20 seconds to move from (where I was) 100 yards all the way to where the other platoon was. It was horrible.”
The beginning was difficult, Peeples said, but the end was well worth it.
Peeples was among four trainees in his 53-person platoon to graduate with honors, placing him in the top 10 percent of his class at Fort Sill, Okla.
He was also one of two in the platoon to be promoted to Private First Class and one of 16 in a battery of 196 people to graduate with honors.
“It kind of lets me know that I can accomplish a lot more than I was expecting because you go there not knowing anybody,” Peeples said. “Having to go through that type of training and coming out on top, a reward and an honor like that is a really good feeling. It lets you know you can do just about anything you put your mind to.”
John Lee Peeples, Lee’s father, was also an officer in the National Guard, and Lee said his father was a key reason he chose to join the National Guard in the first place. John Lee said his son has expressed serious interest in joining the National Guard since he was 14 or 15 years old.
“He didn’t wake up last spring and say, ‘Dad, I’m fixing to join the National Guard,’” John Lee said. “He’s been planning for this for years. When we knew it was a reality, that he was going to do it, that’s when he started hearing all those words you hear when you’re a kid: ‘honor,’ ‘integrity,’ those kinds of things. He’d hear me say, ‘Hey, when you go to school, act like somebody. You’ve got to have honor and integrity in everything that you do so that (you are ready) when you do get into the service.’
“In other words, I tried to mentor him a little bit, but also kept him introduced to other military service folks so he didn’t just hear things from me,” John Lee added. “When he did join, his mind was prepared, and when he went to basic, he was physically prepared.”
Lee played baseball at SHS, and while he was able to prepare physically with sit-ups, push-ups, running and a special National Guard Recruit Sustainment Program, he said the mental preparation became important once he began working with the drill sergeants. Specifically, Lee said, attitude was everything, because even if he was among the top 10 percent early on, he knew the drill sergeants would not let him know it.
“It’s a role they play with it, but it’s pretty serious how they treat people,” Lee said. “My first week there, we got smoked I don’t know how many times. That’s where you mess up, and the drill sergeants just get on you for a couple of hours.”
In what little spare time he had, Lee said he found ways to keep his morale up by writing in a journal focusing on what mattered most to him.
“On Sundays, I would go to church,” Lee said. “That was a big thing, just to kind of get away for a little bit. My parents and family members would write me letters, and I’d write them back.”
Lee said he didn’t realize how high up in the class he was until his second to last physical training test, part of a series of final assessments. Even then, he said, trainees usually don’t discover how they compare with others unless they specifically ask each other about their scores.
“I didn’t even know until right at two weeks before graduation that I was (among) the highest in my class, in my platoon,” Lee said. “It was pretty good to find out. When I got a phone call that Sunday, it was the first thing I told my dad.”
John Lee said he was extremely proud of his son, and the achievement directly correlates with the drive, focus and preparation Lee has exhibited since he first expressed interest in joining the National Guard.
“In a small way, it didn’t really surprise me,” John Lee said. “I don’t want to say that sounding like I’m bragging, because it’s really not. It’s kind of like a test. If you wait until the last minute ... it might surprise you that you did well, but if you’ve been preparing for it for a long time and you do really well, you’re kind of proud of it, but it doesn’t really surprise you that you did do well.”